by Mitchell Conway · January 21, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #38: Mitchell Conway looks at Black Wizard / Blue Wizard Wizards duel! In its short run at the Incubator Arts Center as a part of the Other Forces Festival, Black Wizard/Blue Wizard takes place in a world of hilarious extravagant fantasy and melancholy mundane reality. This play had me laughing through most of it and shedding tears near the end. Dave Malloy and Eliza Bent have created an exceptional musical that you should certainly go see next time it is being performed. Any artist simultaneously working a restaurant job would both thoroughly enjoy and have their bones rattled by this show. But really it’s for all of us who feel we want to strive for great things, yet run up against innumerable obstacles from without and within in that pursuit.
Members of the Core serve tasty mix drinks by the entrance. The words ‘wizards duel’ repeat on projections designed by Michael De Angelis along with space and stars. The Black Wizard and Blue Wizard will fight it out. With much fanfare, the Blue Wizard, played by Bent, arrives with an attempt at a smile and a very funny song about liking random blue things. But the Black Wizard, played by Malloy, has to be sought out on the subway. On screen, we see a video of the wizard declaiming in a villainous voice amongst commuters. His song, filmed on the walk from the subway to the theatre, featuring zapping blue lightning at passersby, leads up to his entrance to the actual space.
Our exotically dressed and high energy hosts for the evening games are the fabulous Nikki Calonge and Mikeah Ernest Jennings. Calonge does a series of ritual-ish random dance movements before picking up fistfuls of dice from a bowl and dropping them on the ground, examining them carefully, and announcing the next event.
There is something amiss with the wizards’ engagement in the competition; they are feebly participating in absurd games that have no relationship to anything really wizard-like. They are trying, but almost anticipate their own failures. Penalties for rules never defined and always different ring out. Bus Stop (the common improvisation game), a shopping list of areas of philosophy, and a debate over the superiority of truth and beauty, conclude by the oracle at Delphi’s advice to know thy self. The words “Mama pays my phone bill” flash big on the screen.
The goofy wizard world is viciously punctured by references to getting iced-coffee, watching movies on the computer, and owing money to Sally May. It breaks apart when Calonge leaves and talks with Jennings as though they are outside a restaurant complaining about their jobs there. The battle for big ideas is gloriously announced as a chapter in the saga, but the Great Mediocrity creeps in unannounced.
We see our Black Wizard now as a Dunkin Donuts employee; energy zapped completely from him, he barely manages to communicate with a customer. It is really heartbreaking. He has a mournful solo accompanied by the trombonist Andy Strain. The Blue Wizard has also donned an apron. She contemplates suicide. At another point, she says something like “this is a society that simultaneously praises wizards and does not understand them.” She sings and the chorus joins in for the lovely and sad song “we will strive for greatness.”
Dan Safer excellently coordinates the dance between wacky comedy and upsetting dreariness. Bent’s text feels intensely intimate. Malloy’s music seamlessly meshes pre-recorded sound design with the on stage vocals and live trombone (balanced by Joshua Chang).
If you didn’t catch it this time, you should hope this one comes back around soon. Black Wizard/Blue Wizard is totally fun to watch, while bringing up gnawing truths about the clash between our ideals and our reality. I walked away contemplative and eager to see more of this team’s work in the future.